Accepted Papers:

Bringing down Orula: objects that speak for themselves  


Anastasios Panagiotopoulos (CRIA-Universidade Nova de Lisboa)

Paper Short Abstract:

This paper is drawing attention to a ‘religious object’ used as an oracle - what is explored is the oracle’s role in creating a particular kind of being, a being permeated by a very particular understanding of destiny.

Paper long abstract:

In the complex world of Afro-Cuban religions a great deal of emphasis is put on divination. Indeed, divination, including anything from spirit possession to the use of 'material' objects, takes many forms. In this paper, I will be focusing on one particular oracle, an oracle employed by the diviners of the cult which is know as Ifá and is intimately associated with its main deity (oricha) - that is, the spirit of Orula. The oracle's role is central as it is what brings to surface a very particular understanding of people's lives, their relations with the spirits and the world around them. The actual oracle involves two objects, the ekuele and the ikín. The former is used for simple consultations, while the latter on more important occasions such as initiations. Both objects are meant to reveal the client's specific position within a mythological context that is thought to explain his or her life and destiny.

My discussion will focus on whether these two objects can be seen as embodying a distinct kind of agency and what this implies. Is an oracle both an object and a subject? Can objects be seen as agents that do not represent relations but constitute them? How do they relate to human agency and in what way can they effect the relations between the past and the future?

panel P01
Thinking, acting and knowing through religious 'things': artefacts in the making of cosmology